Phil Mickelson understands that golf is very big on tradition, so on Wednesday he continued the one he started at the 2014 Ryder Cup of throwing his captains under the bus.
Don’t worry Davis Love, you weren’t the target. It’s only Wednesday, feel free to check back on Sunday night.
On this occasion, Phil went back a dozen years to 2004 Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton. The American team was trounced at Oakland Hills that year and the blowout began early when Sutton marched out World Nos. 1 and 2, Tiger Woods and Mickelson first thing Friday morning.
“We were told two days before that we were playing together,” Mickelson said on Wednesday. “And that gave us no time to work together and prepare.”
The issue, according to Mickelson, was that Woods played a high spin ball and he played a low spin ball. This meant that Phil had to take four or five hours out of his preparation to learn how to play with Woods’ ball.
“And in the history of my career, I have never ball-tested two days prior to a major,” he said. “I’ve never done it. It doesn’t allow me to play my best. What allows me to play my best is to learn the course, sharpen my touch on the greens, sharpen my chipping out of the rough and ball striking and so forth. Instead, I’m taking four or five hours and I’m out trying to learn another ball to allow us to play our best. Had we known a month in advance, we might have been able to make it work. I think we probably would have made it work. But we didn’t know until two days prior.”
At Gleneagles in 2014 tensions were high on Sunday night when Mickelson delivered his famous takedown of Tom Watson. The team was straight off an embarrassing defeat and the wound was still fresh. It seemed possible that the moment had gotten the better of Mickelson although it’s more likely he did it with a clear mind and an eye toward the future. There isn’t a more calculated golfer when speaking into a microphone than Mickelson and regardless of how you feel about his timing in 2014, his words went a long way toward shaping the formula that the American team brings to Hazeltine.
This all makes Phil’s performance on Wednesday even more unnecessary. After all, he got his way. There was a task force, then a committee. Change happened. The pods are back. Davis Love is back. Phil is basically a playing vice-captain. And the American team is two days away from a chance to complete the turnaround.
So why toss Hal Sutton (who is here at Hazeltine and last night was in the team room with the Americans) under the bus?
“Now, I loved — I’m not trying to throw — to knock anybody here, because I actually loved how decisive Captain Sutton was,” Mickelson said. “I feel like that’s a sign of great leadership to be decisive. Had we had time to prepare, I think we would have made it work and could have had some success. But that’s an example of starting with the captain, that put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally, absolutely.”
If that’s not love then what is? Word quickly got around Hazeltine and Sutton was clearly blindsided by Phil’s comments and the reality that he’d suddenly become part of the story this week.
“Somebody has to be the fall guy, if it needs to be me, I can be that,” Sutton said to a group of reporters at Minneapolis Golf Club. Asked if he was surprised by the comments he said “nothing surprises me in the world we live in today.”
Most of the interview with Sutton can be seen in this video filmed by Golfweek.
Sutton expanded on the topic to golfchannel.com.
“The thing the Ryder Cup doesn’t need is drama. It creates enough drama on its own. Phil created a lot of drama that week (in 2004), if we remember, because he switched his clubs and his ball prior to that week,” Sutton said.
“It was very self-serving for him to do that prior to the Ryder Cup in 2004. So, if he needs me to shoulder the blame for his poor play, I can do that.”
Nothing might surprise Sutton anymore but it’s hard not to find the timing of Mickelson’s comments a little baffling. Phil’s been saying interesting, thought-provoking, and controversial things for decades but if you look hard enough there’s almost always an end game to be found.
If there’s an end game with this, it’s yet to be revealed. It looks much more like, here at Hazeltine, with everything on the line, Phil simply couldn’t help himself.
And that’s much less interesting.